McMaster University scores $35 million in federal funding for research into aging, physics


McMaster University scored $35 million from a cross-country federal funding blitz that will give Canada’s largest study on aging new tools to evaluate brain health.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau recently announced $518 million for more than 100 Canadian research projects, including those aimed at boosting vaccine production, studying the ocean and climate change.

Details of five major investments at Hamilton’s west-end university worth $35 million were highlighted by Liberal MP Bob Bratina and Labour Minister Filomena Tassi in an announcement Thursday.

More than $9 million of that amount will go toward “high-tech new tools” to measure brain health, vision and mobility in the Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging, said professor and lead investigator Parminder Raina.

That internationally recognized research — the largest study of aging in Canada — is following more than 50,000 people over at least 20 years. Part of the investment will help renew existing equipment that is now 10 years old, said Raina, who is also the scientific director of the McMaster Institute for Research on Aging.

But exciting “new science” is also being funded, he said — like wearable technology to measure sleep patterns, GPS devices to monitor how and where older people travel and even sensors to try to measure loss of smell or taste.

Loss of smell could be an “early indicator” of diseases like dementia, Raina noted, while a high-tech evaluation of how seniors walk, stand and balance could provide warning of future neurological issues.

Materials science research at McMaster was also a big winner with four projects in the latest round of federal funding.

The largest single investment is $14 million to add specialized instruments at McMaster’s nuclear reactor for a project physicist Bruce Gaulin calls “building a future for neutron scattering in Canada.”

Neutron scattering uses a stream or beam of neutrons to figure out what happens to various materials at the atomic level. Understanding the atomic state of a material has allowed for the development or improvement of everything from auto parts to superconductors to smartphones.

McMaster’s reactor is unique in Canada for this type of research — particularly after the 2018 shutdown of a longtime reactor used for decades by scientists in Chalk River.

Gaulin, an international expert in neutron scattering, said the new instruments will attracts hundreds of scientists each year to the facility and help put Canada “back on the map” for research once pioneered by 1994 Nobel Prize-winning McMaster scientist Bertram Brockhouse.

Much of the research that earned federal funding Thursday is also eligible for potential provincial cash, but decisions on matching grants have yet to be announced.